Alfredo Piatti – learning from a dead teacher

Job ter Haar

Historically-informed performance (HIP) and research are naturally connected. Therefore, the collaboration between scholars and performers in this field is essential. In many cases the scholars are the performers, which makes the bond between the two disciplines even tighter. In practice however this collaboration can sometimes be quite problematic. Not all research findings find their way into performance; musicians tend to cherry pick, and they sometimes forget (or refuse!) to include certain aspects of their artistry into the discussion. Also, historical research can never cover all aspects of a performance, such that musicians always have to fill in some gaps with conjectures. These problems sometimes cause HIP performances to be unbalanced. This can be especially conspicuous in 19th century HIP, because the sounding result of our efforts in this field can easily be compared with historical recordings made by musicians who had their training in the nineteenth century.

Perhaps part of this problem is the way musicians are used to take in knowledge. Before string players nowadays make their first attempt at HIP they have usually gone through a process of rigorous conservatoire training and endless practice; then they are suddenly confronted with knowledge produced by historical research, which can be quite abstract and incomplete compared to the kind of knowledge they were spoon-fed with during their conservatoire training. This creates problems for aspiring HIP specialists, but also raises barriers for musicians who are interested in HIP but don’t want to specialize.

This lecture-recital aims to present a model for research in HIP-context that I will call the “absent teacher approach”, exemplified by my PhD-research on the 19th-century cello virtuoso Alfredo Piatti and demonstrated with several musical examples. Issues addressed include:
- HIP research for specialists and non-specialists
- “Intention of the Composer” vs. “Power to the Performer”
- In what ways can 19th century cello techniques still be used nowadays?